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Joni Mitchell says Saskatoon doesn’t ‘get’ it – and it looks like she’s right   Print

by Hillary Nelson
Metro Saskatoon
July 28, 2013

I want to get a few things straight with respect to the recent kerfuffle in this bridged city about an artist and her comments.

It seems that many people are not reading much past the headlines, and have used this as an excuse to attack Joni Mitchell personally. This campaign of misinformed outrage has been chuffing along since June, when everybody read the headline but not the story about Ms. Mitchell "wanting her stuff back." The interview therein was with her family friend and his interpretation of her wishes, not with Joni herself.

When the Star-Phoenix got in touch with the artist herself last week, she had some rather direct words about Saskatoon. A subset of our population chose to attack her for her words, rather than to applaud her forthrightness and ask themselves whether there is any basis for it.

She stated in the interview that Saskatoon doesn't "get" her ideas. I'm inclined to agree. Joni Mitchell doesn't want to be commemorated just for living in Saskatoon for a bit and then going on to become famous. This city helped shape her identity; she'd like to return the favour. She tried to make the proposal "inclusive or fun or educational," as in the efforts to establish a cultural centre.

Her frustration is understandable at having her attempts to bridge the gap between First Nations and descendants of settlers rejected.

When she expresses objection to this, she's "petulant," and a bigot for calling all of us bigots, an "ungrateful washed-up folk singer" or worse. I remember this line of "reasoning" from the fifth grade. Only people have gone a bit further than calling her "unco-operative" or "snooty," as she said in the interview, for rejecting further involvement in the tiring business of yet another attempt at a Joni monument. We'd rather have her be a "long-haired hippie blond chick" to put on postcards, the human equivalent of the Bessborough, rather than an active participant in her legacy.

Joni has always resisted the mould and the party line - she dropped out of high school, and out of the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. A static sign on a bridge that says nothing about what she stands for is not a fitting tribute, nor would it draw tourists to this city. If you were to name a bridge after her, it would be the Broadway Bridge, where she spent time, instead of a concrete slab much farther south.

If you want to honour her ideals, support her vision of a First Nations cultural centre. Support the arts and arts education in this city, so artists no longer have to leave, as she did, to gain recognition. Let's not reduce her to the role of a figurehead for this city, a plaque on the side of a house.

 

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jimsome5 on 2013-Aug-03 at 13:04:53 GMT-5:
It takes time to comprehend, let alone measure, the entire body of an artist's ideas and works. Ours is an impatient age. In that light, too many will settle for a headline and then go on attack through "social" media if anything therein offends their sensibilities (assuming they have any in the truest sense of the word).

Miss Nelson's article is steering us along the right path. She rightly asks that we tap the brakes just enough to slow down, absorb the scale of what Ms. Mitchell has done for the WORLD, and then take pride in, rather than offense of, the relationship that Saskatoon and its citizens have to someone who is immensely special. Cement, bricks and other materials of monuments are too easy to come by (and, likewise, monuments easily forgotten). Slow down, think "cultural" and contribute the required sweat equity. The outcome may be surprisingly enjoyable: a lasting tribute that says as much positive about its creators as it does about the inspriartion of their creation.
jimsome5 on 2013-Aug-03 at 13:04:00 GMT-5:
It takes time to comprehend, let alone measure, the entire body of an artist's ideas and works. Ours is an impatient age. In that light, too many will settle for a headline and then go on attack through "social" media if anything therein offends their sensibilities (assuming they have any in the truest sense of the word).

Miss Nelson's article is steering us along the right path. She rightly asks that we tap the brakes just enough to slow down, absorb the scale of what Ms. Mitchell has done for the WORLD, and then take pride in, rather than offense of, the relationship that Saskatoon and its citizens have to someone who is immensely special. Cement, bricks and other materials of monuments are too easy to come by (and, likewise, monuments easily forgotten). Slow down, think "cultural" and contribute the required sweat equity. The outcome may be surprisingly enjoyable: a lasting tribute that says as much positive about its creators as it does about the inspriartion of their creation.